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Connectivity: The real guarantee required

12 Jan 2018

THE federal government’s decision to drop the Universal Service Obligation guaranteeing nationwide access to a fixed copper line telephone services must be the springboard to better connectivity for every farm business.

It’s the guarantees that are put in place now under the soon to be unveiled Universal Service Guarantee that matter. What must not be allowed to happen is a new regime that fails to reflect the needs of modern agricultural businesses. 

What has rural Australia rightly worried are the incessant claims than more than 99 per cent of Australians have access to at least one commercial mobile network, and more than 96pc can access three.

That’s great if you happen to be part of the majority that live in a city but 99pc coverage is hardly the reality in rural Australia.

Despite the commendable growth in mobile phone coverage as a result of programs including the Mobile Black Spot Program, large swathes of rural Australia are being denied any form of mobile phone coverage, let alone the connectivity required to operate a farm business.

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Better coverage for Sackville

12 Jan 2018

Residents around Sackville have 3G and 4G mobile coverage for the first time after a new base station came online.

Telstra flicked the switch on the new base station in late December as part of the rollout of the federal government’s Mobile Black Spot Program, providing comprehensive mobile phone coverage for residents in Sackville North, South Maroota, Maraylya and Forest Glen.

“The new mobile base station at Sackville North delivers Telstra’s 3G and state of the art 4GX mobile data services to the area for the first time,” Telstra Area General Manager Tricia Wilson stated. “We are proud to be part of this important initiative which extends the latest technologies across regional and rural communities, along major regional transport routes, and in locations prone to natural disasters.

Telstra is building a total of 577 new mobile base stations under the first two rounds of the Mobile Black Spot Program, and installing up to 250 small cells to deliver high speed 4G data services in some small country towns where suitable Telstra infrastructure is available.

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Mobile blackspot program changes could help Wimmera: leaders

12 Jan 2018

WIMMERA leaders believe a state government decision to pull away from a federal mobile blackspot program is likely to benefit the region.

The government announced on Wednesday it would abandon the program in favour of its own system, which it said would allocate mobile towers on merit rather than political interests.

The government will use the $11 million it planned to invest in round three of the blackspots program to build new towers across regional Victoria.

Digital Economy Minister Philip Dalidakis said the government was leaving the program because the federal government failed to properly consult when choosing sites, and showed a lack of transparency about how sites were selected.

Wimmera Development Association executive director Ralph Kenyon said the group was not concerned about the move.

“In fact it probably gives us a better chance of getting towers up,” he said.

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Eliminate black spot bias

12 Jan 2018

If the Victorian Government wishes to ditch the Federal Government’s mobile phone black spot program — so be it.

But we do expect improved results from any replacement scheme.

Consumers would not be too fussy whichever tier of government delivers funding — as long as the funds are delivered and the service is improved.

In our backyard, Katandra West mobile phone users would be grateful for any improvement, having lived for years with unreliable service and then missing out on black spot funding just more than a year ago.

Residents at that time said they were ‘‘sick and tired’’ of years of poor coverage.

So we hope the Victorian Government’s decision to leave the federal program and set up its own scheme will improve the lives of regional Victorians such as the good people of Katandra West.

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Black spot back-out

12 Jan 2018

Stakeholders say whichever tier of government is best placed to provide reliable mobile phone coverage to poorly connected communities in Greater Shepparton should lead the way with it.

The Victorian Government yesterday announced it was turning its back on the Federal Government’s mobile black spot program to instead put funding into its own towers.

In a thinly veiled barb, the Victorian Government committed to instead choosing mobile tower locations ‘‘based on merit and necessity, rather than political interests’’.

The Victorian Government will instead spend $11million it would have invested in the third round of the federal program to work with major telcos to build new towers.

Committee for Greater Shepparton chief executive Sam Birrell said whichever government was capable of delivering improved service to regional areas should forge ahead with it.

A statement from Victorian Digital Economy Minister Philip Dalidakis said the new state-run mobile black spot project was being delivered as part of the $45million connecting regional communities program announced in the 2017-18 Victorian Budget.

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Vodafone IT system flaw leads to breach of mobile ID rules

11 Jan 2018

Changes to a Vodafone IT system led to the telco failing to verify the identity of more than 1000 customers when activating their prepaid mobile services.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) today revealed the outcome of its investigation into the breach of the Telecommunications (Service Provider – Identity Checks for Prepaid Mobile Carriage Services) Determination 2017, which require telecommunications providers to verify the identity of mobile customers.

The breaches took place between 6 January 2015 and 6 January 2016, the ACMA said, following changes to Vodafone IT systems. The telco’s customers were able to select an option on the Vodafone website indicating that they had verified their identity in store without this being checked.

The undertaking states that Vodafone accepts that there were “material weaknesses” in its compliance control framework that led to breaches of the determination.

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2017 End of Year Update

11 Jan 2018


2017 was once again the year of Optus installing a staggering 586 new sites which to put that in prospective is almost a 10% network increase in a single year and over 2 new towers per business day. Optus’ strategy has been to deploy all available spectrum as much as possible as well as cluster many new sites around regional centres giving products like “Optus Home Wireless Broadband” the bandwidth needed. This allows Optus to eat into NBN’s lunch although speed wise it’s a very basic product only offering 12mb/s or 5mb/s in rural areas. If you want speed then Optus also has 140GB plans for $70, although if you go over your next 140GB will cost you $1400 which by the way you have no control over what so ever, making it impractical as a fixed line alternative.

Optus also appears to have mostly finished their 4G700 rollout and has shifted focus to 4G2100 and in rural areas 4G1800. Optus has 81.3% of its network covered by 4G700 however Optus is now deploying 3G900 only small cell sites which won’t be upgraded to 4G for the foreseeable future. Optus now has just under 600 sites without 4G, less than 50 of those will be small cell sites and some older 2G only sites may get abandoned. The 2G switch off for Optus went well with no major outages reported as a result.  Optus is now only around 1100 towers behind Telstra and proposals show Optus is not finished yet with its rollout of new towers. Coverage wise Telstra will still be superior, but gone are the days only a Telstra sim is needed in rural and remote areas, with Optus small cell sites popping up in very remote places, an Optus sim is now a must for any remote adventure.



This year Telstra has finally realised they need to get a move on if its not to be left behind in Optus’ dust. Deploying 309 new sites with WA getting 103 alone, Taxpayer funded Blackspot sites represent a significant amount of these new sites. On the upgrade front 1516 sites were upgraded with 4G700 and 4G2600 continues to rolled out with 4G900 being used for IOT rolled out as well. Upgrades were focused mostly on the eastern seaboard with NSW being the main beneficiary. Telstra is set to overtake Optus in low band 4G this year if it keeps up the rate at which it is upgrading towers.

Last year Telstra had several major network failures which they seem to have gotten on top of for this year. Telstra’s switch off of 2G services also went well without incident, and that band 900mhz is now getting refarmed to 4G900 albeit slowly with only just over 1% of the network upgraded.



After last year’s massive upgrade push Vodafone has throttled back significantly deploying a few more towers 248 (up from 209) but with their 850mhz band rolled out upgrades were down to 1605 sites (form 2130). Upgraded has shifted to rolling out 4G2100 as Vodafone refarm’s that spectrum from 3G. Upgrades seem to be focused in NSW with QLD and other states seemingly missing out.  New sites were also focused on the eastern seaboard with NSW receiving almost half of the new sites.

Vodafone has yet to deploy any 4G700mhz however it did make proposals around metro Hobart where Vodafone seems starved for spectrum. No wider rollout has been proposed, with only 5mhz of spectrum the cost benefit of such a small amount of spectrum may hamper a wider rollout with 850mhz already deployed and serving the roll for now. Vodafone continues to fall behind as Optus catches up to Telstra, the gap between Optus and Vodafone it getting quite significant, with TPG nipping on the heals and Rural Roaming out of the question, it’s had to see how Vodafone will position itself from here, other than offering rock bottom pricing.



2017 saw NBN’s rate continue to drop to 250 new site activations down from 340 last year and around 600 the year before. The remain on target however to complete their 2300ish towers by the end of 2019 requiring only around 260 per year. NBN also managed to upgrade many sites with 4G3500 as well in preparation for 100mb/s speeds mid next year.



Although TPG doesn’t have any active towers yet, 2018 is the year TPG begins deployment with between 2000 and 2500 sites expected nationwide.  Mid 2018 is expected to be the switch on date with Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra switched on then. That’s quite an ambitious rollout and there has been nothing mentioned as to what happens once you go outside these areas. Will Vodafone play ball and allow roaming onto its network? If they don’t allow roaming then they would look quite the hypocrite. 



So, what can be expected for 2018?  Well Optus doesn’t look like slowing down and Telstra also has quite a lot of new proposals for upgrades also. Vodafone on the other hand doesn’t seem to be signalling anything different to this year. TPG is expected to turn on its new network, and NBN will continue to deploy new sites around outer metro areas.  Lots to look forward to in the mobile world, stay tuned!


Tower funding vital

11 Jan 2018

We’ve been using mobile phones for so long now that there’s plenty who cannot remember a time when we most of us didn’t carry around the gadgets.

In fact, there’s been such a huge market penetration that anyone without one is somewhat of an oddity.

And yet despite that, rural residents continue to suffer the inconvenience of living in black spot zones, of not as such being able to run their businesses effectively because of intermittent coverage.

Major fires in the region, especially the North East, in recent years have also added a more disturbing element to the picture.

That of course is the life and death matter of someone not being able to make a vital call because their phone cannot connect to the network.

All of these examples, but especially the need to make a call in an emergency, are no small matter. It does seem absurd in these times for such problems to persist but they do, though given the flawed roll-out of the nation’s national broadband network it perhaps is of little surprise.

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SUPPORT: Gulaptis wants black spot fixed

11 Jan 2018

CLARENCE MP Chris Gulaptis has come out in support of Ulmarra residents seeking a solution to the notorious Pacific Highway black spot near George St.

"I agree it's a black spot, it's unacceptable and requires more action," Mr Gulaptis said.

"I know the highway will eventually bypass Ulmarra, but we need to address it now."

Mr Gulaptis, who is on leave over the Christmas break, said he had followed the news about the truck accident last week and was disappointed residents' pleas for changes had been ignored for so long.

"Around four to five years ago, I made a request to the RMS to review the southern approach to Ulmarra and they couldn't find a justifi- cation for change," he said.

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Mobile blackspots: Victoria hangs up on Federal Government

11 Jan 2018

EXCLUSIVE: VICTORIA has thumbed its nose at the Federal Government and will go it alone in a bid to improve mobile blackspots.

The State Government will today turn its back on the third round of the Federal Government’s mobile blackspot program, accusing it of funding blackspots based on political interest, rather than need.

Victoria will reallocate the $11 million it planned to invest in the latest funding round to instead fund mobile towers of its choice, in consultation with Emergency Management Victoria, Regional Partnerships and local councils.

The Federal Government opened tenders for a final $60 million round of its mobile blackspot program in November — but, unlike the previous rounds, it selected 109 “priority locations” where towers must be built instead of running a site selection process.

It includes 16 sites in Vic­toria, all in Coalition-held electorates; nationwide, 24 of the 109 locations were in marginal non-Government seats.

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